By Susan Buchanan, Senior Director, Assessment Services

The pressure to incorporate sustainability initiatives is greater than ever before. Economic challenges, limited funding and competition between mission, maintenance and capital projects are some of the factors which drive organizations to concentrate on prioritizing and optimizing their efforts in this arena.

No matter what sector – whether it is federal, state and local government, corporate, education or healthcare – organizations need the ability to optimize their capital investments, ultimately resulting in more sustainable facilities.

While having a broad umbrella approach to sustainability (including energy, water, indoor environmental quality, site sustainability, and materials and construction) is important, the recent focus has been on prioritizing sustainability projects which provide a clear return on investment. Organizations are more involved in defining real-life practical ways to fund and accomplish their overall greening goals – while at the same time maintaining the desired condition of their facilities with a given budget.

In order to optimize sustainable capital investments, there are four important considerations:

  • Mission and mandate
  • Improved efficiency
  • Day-to-day operations
  • Long-range planning

Following these fundamentals enables an organization to successfully integrate sustainability goals into their facility capital planning process.

Mission and mandate

The foundation of any green program is based on any organization’s mission as well as any compliance requirements that must be met. Once the mission is clearly understood and expressed in terms of its facilities, it is possible to create a framework from which to make key decisions. Recommendations for sustainable actions can then be prioritized in support of these goals.

Improved efficiency

Efficiency is a key area of focus – targeting which actions will reduce operating costs while conserving resources. Organizations may want to consider assessing their current facilities in order to define key opportunities for saving energy and conserving water, which can result in a wealth of efficiency improvements.

Day-to-day operational decisions

Consider the impact of daily operational decisions on both sustainability and the operating budget, and how alternative green actions can replace traditional, potentially inefficient choices. In every replacement scenario – whether it’s a renewal, upgrade of equipment or replacement of finishes – there is an opportunity to implement green alternatives which can incrementally improve the sustainability of each facility without a major impact on day-to-day procedures.

Long-range planning

Faced with numerous challenges – especially lack of funding and emergency repair needs – the facility operations and maintenance world often focuses on day-to-day issues. Long-range planning enables an organization to be prepared for the future, whether that entails budget cuts or newly available funds. By surveying the facility portfolio, identifying the potential green opportunities, setting water and energy baselines, setting reduction targets and creating a sustainability implementation plan, organizations can balance short-term needs with long-term success. With sustainable policies, procedures and funding models in place, the long-term result will be increased cost savings over the life of the facilities.

Ultimately, focusing on these fundamentals results in an integrated approach to planning, budgeting and funding sustainability projects within the framework of a plan which meets the organization’s goals and transforms the facility portfolio. Step by step, incremental change instituted over time will result in a more sustainable building portfolio which maximizes investment and supports the larger mission of any organization.

Register now for our free webinar at 1 PM CT on Thursday, September 10, "Planning for Sustainability" to learn more about integrating sustainability into your facility management process.

This blog post is derived from Susan Buchanan’s article, “Optimizing the Investment: Supporting Sustainable Facilities,” which originally ran in the March/April 2010 issue of FMJ, the official magazine of IFMA. To learn more about IFMA, visit

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